A Good Agricultural Practices checklist

Photos by Vern Grubinger.
This setup allows for workers in the field to wash their hands with potable water before handling crops.

I don’t have to tell you that food safety is a hot topic. Exactly what kind of new regulations in this area, if any, will be coming is not clear, but it is clear that wholesale buyers are increasingly asking growers for assurances that good agricultural practices (GAPs) are being followed.

For small, diversified growers, complying with a new regulation or passing the USDA Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices Audit Verification Checklist (see www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5050869) may be a challenge since there is limited capacity to keep detailed records and limited finances to pay for additional infrastructure or equipment, such as refrigeration temperature logging devices.

It only makes sense to be aware of the main areas of concern and the many common-sense steps that a grower can take to assure food safety on the farm. This short list, based on the USDA audit and feedback from growers, should help you get started in taking a proactive approach to food safety. Note: this is not an official document or a sanctioned procedure, it is just meant to be a helpful guide.

Worker Health and Hygiene

  • Potable water is available to all workers.
  • Employees are trained in and required to follow proper sanitation and GAPs practices.
  • Signs are posted in appropriate areas to instruct employees and visitors to wash their hands.
  • Restroom/field toilets are serviced and cleaned on a scheduled basis; they are supplied with paper towels, toilet paper, hand soap and potable water for hand washing.
  • Eating, drinking, chewing gum and tobacco use are confined to designated areas separate from where food crops are handled. Bottled water is allowed in closed containers.
  • Workers with flu-like symptoms, open wounds or infectious conditions are prohibited from handling food crops. Any crops that come in contact with any body fluids will be disposed of, and any equipment surfaces that come in contact with any body fluids will be disinfected.
  • First aid kits are provided and restocked on a regular basis. All employees are instructed to seek prompt treatment if they are ill or injured; the use of first aid supplies is explained.
  • Pesticide, fertilizer or other crop and soil applications on the farm are documented and on file, including the name of the person applying materials, date, field/crop location and amount applied.
These plastic vegetable boxes have been cleaned and sanitized prior to reuse.   This farm has a nice, simple system for triple-washing small crops with clean, potable water.

Water and Sewage

  • The source(s) of water used to irrigate and to wash produce is/are tested annually.
  • Reasonable efforts are made to restrict irrigation water sources from excessive exposure to livestock, wildlife and other potential pollution sources (fencing is used when herds may be near streams; scare tactics are employed when large flocks of birds are passing through the area; etc.)
  • The farm septic system is inspected annually to assure it is functioning properly.
  • No sewage or sewage byproducts are used on the farm.

Manure and Compost Management

  • Manure lagoons located near crop production areas are maintained to prevent leaking or overflowing and measures have been taken to stop runoff into crop production areas.
  • If raw manure or a combination of raw and composted manure is used as a soil amendment it is incorporated at least two weeks prior to planting and a minimum of 90 days prior to harvest.
  • If manure is composted and applied less than two weeks before planting or less than 90 days before harvest, there is documentation that is has been thoroughly heated.
  • Raw manure storage or composting operations are well-managed, with sufficient separation and runoff control to prevent possible contamination of fields where food crops are grown.

Field Harvest and Field Packing Activities

  • All regulations are followed regarding use of portable sanitation units, which are located to minimize the risk of contamination yet accessible for service. If a unit tips over or leaks, it is promptly fixed or replaced and contaminated soil around it will be removed from the field.
  • Harvest containers, bulk hauling vehicles, hand harvesting implements, washing and storage equipment and facilities that come in direct contact with harvested crops are cleaned and/or sanitized prior to use and kept as clean as practical. Any damaged containers or equipment are properly repaired or disposed of.
  • If a container breaks or there is another source of contamination from chemicals, petroleum, pesticides, etc., during harvest, the supervisor is contacted, the contaminated crop is disposed of and the equipment and area are cleaned.
  • All employees are instructed to inspect for and remove foreign objects such as glass, metal, rocks, unidentified objects or other dangerous/toxic items from harvest containers or equipment.
  • Harvest containers will be used solely for the carrying or storage of the intended crop and nonproduce items are not allowed in these containers during the harvest season.
  • Only potable water is used to wash or cool crops or to make ice that may contact crops.
  • Effort is made to remove excessive soil from harvested crops and containers during harvest.
  • Pallets, boxes, totes, bags, bins, cellars, storage rooms, etc., are cleaned and inspected prior to use; they are protected as much as practical from contamination by foreign material and wildlife.
  • If crops need to be stored outside, they are covered and protected from contamination.
  • Non-food-grade substances such as paints, lubricants, fertilizers, pesticides, etc., are not stored near harvested crops or in crop washing/storage areas.
  • There is a written pest control program for the washing/storage facility that includes measures to exclude animals or pests from storage facilities.
  • The washing/storage facility is cleaned and maintained in an orderly manner. Refrigeration systems work properly and appropriate storage temperatures are maintained.
  • Prior to loading/unloading crops, all containers and handling equipment are inspected to make sure they are clean and free from disagreeable odors and obvious dirt and/or debris; they are cleaned if necessary.
  • Efforts are made to ensure minimal damage to crops during harvest, handling and transportation. Crops are not handled or transported with potentially contaminating products.

For more information, including guidance in writing your farm’s food safety plan, see the GAPs Web site at Penn State University, http://www.foodsafety.psu.edu/GAPs/.

The author is vegetable and berry specialist with University of Vermont Extension based at the Brattleboro office.